Governments need to make full use of digital technologies to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and address a wide range of pandemic-related issues according to another new policy brief issued by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
The pandemic is compelling governments and societies to turn toward digital technologies to respond to the crisis and, increasingly, is requiring governments to adopt an open government approach and to use digital communication channels to provide reliable information on global and national COVID-19 developments.
With lockdowns and other social distancing measures in effect in many countries, and with more people relying on the internet for information and advice, governments are being urged to deploy effective digital technologies to contain the outbreak.
According to the brief, a review of the national portals of the 193 United Nations Member States showed that by 25 March 2020, 57 per cent (110 countries) had posted some kind of information on COVID-19, while around 43 per cent (83 countries) had not. But by 8 April 2020, around 86 per cent (167 countries) have included information and guidance about COVID-19 in their portals.
Government information has focused on information about the outbreak, travel restrictions, practical guidance on protection, and governmental response. Governments, as the first custodian of data related to COVID-19, have also started publishing statistics that include the total number of cases in a country, total fatalities, as well reporting of cases by jurisdictions.
Governments have also designed new apps and services to help in the fight against COVID-19, to facilitate services such as delivering food and other essential items to those most in need by optimizing the entire supply chain via digital government services. Some Member States recorded an increase in the usage of online services such as digital ID and digital signature, due to the spikes in applications for unemployment and other social benefits.
Some countries, balancing health imperatives and privacy concerns, have found that digital applications can help trace and test people who have come into contact with an infected person.
According to the policy brief, governments, often lacking the financial and human resource capabilities to quickly and efficiently develop digital tools that can support people during a crisis situation, should build partnerships with private technology companies, social entrepreneurs or other national and international organizations to make use of existing technologies to meet the needs of people and soften the impact of the crisis on their lives.
“Policymakers should seize the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to establish tailor-made digital government tools, strategies and collaborations for the future,” the brief states. “The crisis has demonstrated that it is impossible for societies to ignore technological advancements as they are continuing to change business models and people’s everyday lives. Governments should embrace these policy- and technological developments and harvest the digital opportunities that can support the long-term sustainable development of their countries.”
Related information: UN DESA’s dedicated web portal for COVID-19